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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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August 02, 2011

Smart Spice: Cumin

By Mark Sisson
199 Comments

What do you know about cumin? Cumin seeds are pungent, potent little things with the ability to significantly change the trajectory of a dish. They are featured prominently in Mexican, Mediterranean, Indian, Middle Eastern, and certain Chinese cuisines. Back in the Middle Ages, cumin was one of the most popular – and most accessible – condiments for the spice-crazy Europeans, and stories tell of soldiers going off to war with loaves of cumin bread in their satchels for good luck. Cumin originated in the Mediterranean, and it was used extensively by the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Persians, and just about everyone in that region. It is not to be confused with caraway, which is actually called “cumin” in multiple European languages. They are somewhat similar in taste and appearance, but cumin is spicier and, in my opinion, tastier.

As is usually the case with spices that have been in use for thousands of years, cumin appears to provide a number of potential health benefits, from anti-glycation agent to antioxidant to anti-osteoporotic, and much more. Note that many of the surnames in the following PubMed links are of Indian origin. Cumin, along with ghee and a host of other spices, played a prominent role in the Ayurvedic medicinal traditions, and I love seeing a lot of these supposedly “old wives’ tales” get preliminary scientific justification:

  • The jury is still out on whether dietary AGEs are worrisome, but it’s clear that the formation of endogenous AGEs is a much bigger concern, especially for diabetics. In diabetic rats, cumin extract was more effective at reducing blood glucose and AGE production than glibenclamide, an anti-diabetic drug.
  • Cumin’s anti-glycation properties proved useful in another study, in which diabetic rats were able to stave off cataracts after oral dosing with cumin powder.
  • Another study found that cumin extract reduced total cholesterol, triglycerides, and pancreatic inflammatory markers in diabetic rats. It also prevented excessive weight loss. Again, it beat out glibenclamide.
  • Oral doses (25, 50, 100, 200 mg/kg) of cumin on consecutive days improved the immune response of mice with compromised immune systems due to restraint-induced stress. These effects were marked by a reduction in elevated cortisol and adrenal gland size, an increase in the weight of the thymus and spleen, and replenishment of depleted T cells. There was a dose dependent response, but all doses had beneficial effects.
  • An extract of cumin had anti-osteoporotic effects on rats, similar to estradiol, but without the associated weight gain. Cumin-dosed (orally, 1 mg/kg) osteoporotic rats had increased bone density and improved bone microarchitecture.
  • Cumin protected the livers of rats from ethanol- and rancid sunflower oil-induced toxicity.
  • One study even seems to suggest a role for cumin in weaning addicts off of opiates – here – by reducing tolerance (yeah, it could increase the subjective high, but it would mean less product was required) and dependence.
  • Antioxidant content of commonly available commercial cumin in Pakistan was found to be “potent.” It’s unclear whether the same holds true for cumin in other countries, but I imagine it probably is. Go with whole seeds and grind as needed, if possible, as ground cumin (and anything, really) will be more exposed to the air and thus more liable to degrade. If you’ve got ground cumin, store it in the fridge in an airtight, sealed container. It also helps to heat the seeds before grinding to really release the flavor. I usually toast them on a cast iron skillet over low heat for a couple minutes (just wait for the smell and don’t let them burn; you’ll know it when you smell it, because it’s somewhat reminiscent of a fine body odor), but one study found that microwaving whole cumin seeds actually preserved the aromatic and antioxidant compounds better than traditional oven roasting. Go figure.

So, what can you do with the stuff besides make curries?

Curries are great and expected places to insert cumin, of course, but why not branch out and explore? Cumin used to act as a replacement for expensive black pepper for people who couldn’t afford it, so why not treat it like that yourself and add it to things you’d otherwise never think to? Cumin and scrambled eggs. Cumin and sweet potatoes. Cumin and homemade stock for a nice hot drink before bed. If you’d eat it with black pepper, try it with cumin – not for any health benefits, necessarily, but just for a nice change of pace. My latest favorite is beef (any cut will do) marinated in lime juice, wheat-free tamari, and cumin. I just did a batch of bone-in short ribs like that with homemade beef broth, as a slight alteration of Richard Nikoley’s excellent short rib recipe, and it was incredible. I highly recommend it.

How do you use cumin? Have you used it? And don’t say “in curries”; I want some new stuff to try!

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199 Comments on "Smart Spice: Cumin"

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Chris Tamme
5 years 1 month ago

Never even knew what cumin was all about till now. I guess I have something new to experiment with tonight after I stop by the grocery store and pick up some cumin. I love to experiment with new spices and see what new flavors I can discover.

Milemom
Milemom
5 years 1 month ago

You’ve never had cumin???? oh my. Me on a desert island, it would be cumin and salt for sure. I have to say though, that is smells a bit like sweat and it’s one of those spices/herbs (like cilantro) that people either love or hate.
Happy sampling!

Kathryn
Kathryn
5 years 27 days ago

If any of you have an older dog, cumin is a perfect add to there food. Not only does it keep their tummy in tip top shape, it gives an old dog bunches of energy.

Jerry
Jerry
3 years 5 months ago

I grew up in a Hispanic household, my mother was an excellent cook and baker. Although are diet was varied, I noted my mother did occasionally cook with the use of cumin. So I recently tried in a recipe for chile and found it to add a nice punch to the flavor, but last night I added it again to another dish and at about 1pm noticed I could not fall asleep. I felt as if I had all this energy, and I can only attribute that to the use of cumin. I think I’ll use it sparingly going forward.

Nigel
Nigel
2 years 3 months ago

My cat likes to eat cumin the spice and olives. I have searched the web and found no other cat who does the same. You can see him here http://youtu.be/1TEGI5F-qko.

Roger Mercer
3 years 6 months ago

Try this, pour a little sour cream over some fresh strawberries. Top with a sprinkle or two of ground cumin. Sounds strange. Tastes wonderful.

Lorey
Lorey
2 years 8 months ago

I am diabetic (type 2) and I love to put cumin, cinnamon and tumeric with a little sea salt on my freshly made popcorn which I popped in a little coconut oil. Not only is it a tasty combo on popcorn, but my “numbers” stay healthy. I do not take any medication, just control the diabetes with diet and exercise.

Resurgent
Resurgent
5 years 1 month ago

Try liver, sauteed with a generous pinch of Cumin in Ghee.

Another of my favorite ways to have cumin is, lightly roast the seeds, grind to a fine powder and have it mixed with some salt with a bowl of greek yogurt. For some extra effect add half a shredded cucumber to the mix.

Primal toad
Primal toad
5 years 1 month ago

So your telling me that in order to low liver I just need to cook it in ghee or butter and add a lot of cumin? If so, I’ll give it a go… I have a lot ofcliver to eat up!

alley cat
alley cat
5 years 1 month ago

Yeah, i bought a pack of brains awhile back and they have disappeared to the depths of my deep freezer… Liver is a bit the same. Good intentions…!

Dave
Dave
5 years 1 month ago

Google Foie de Veau sautee. It’s a recipe for liver. I make it paleo friendly by pan frying in butter and coconut oil and use almond flour to “bread” the slices. It’s awesome.

peggy
peggy
5 years 1 month ago

I love the smell when I grind some in my mortar…

Anne
5 years 1 month ago

Oh, how I adore cumin. Especially with coriander.

You can make some delicious mexican spiced nuts and seeds with cumin, coriander, cayenne, cinnamon, salt and pepper as your spice blend. Toss the nuts and seeds in egg white so the spices will stick, and toast till golden. My fave blend is sliced almonds, pepitas and sunflower seeds.

Brian
Brian
5 years 1 month ago

I do the same thing with my almonds: tamari, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne, then roast them for a few minutes.

I use the same spice combination with sauteed mushrooms and onions, and use it as a topping for just about any type of meat. Usually with grilled steaks, but it goes with just about anything.

shannon
shannon
5 years 1 month ago

I used cumin to make a glaze for lamb ribs the other day. You parboil the lamb ribs for 45 minutes, then grill them. Baste with a mixture of marmalade, Dijon mustard and cumin.

Jason Sandeman
5 years 1 month ago

Cumin is excellent in a lot of cuisines. I like to use it for it’s depth of flavor in my chili, also as a basis for a rub on steak. I have had luck with rubbing a pork loin with fresh coriander and cumin seeds. You also can’t go wrong if you are using it with dried mushrooms to give a very dark undertone to a stewed dish.
Heck, even roasted cauliflower is awesome with cumin as well!

Margot
Margot
5 years 1 month ago

I mixed cumin and crushed garlic and made a wet rub for my steak before grilling it. It imparts a very nice smokey flavor.

Shilpa
Shilpa
5 years 1 month ago

Hi Mark,
Nice to see a post on cumin.
Cumin is used everyday in my Indian kitchen. Here are some options apart from using them in curry.

1) Steep a teaspoon of cumin in a liter of hot water. Strain and enjoy flavored cumin water. Aids in digestion.
2) Roast cumin in ghee and powder it and add it to buttermilk and soups.
3) Temper cumin in ghee and then add vegetables/ meat. Stir fry and add to the flavor with pepper and salt.

Uncephalized
Uncephalized
5 years 1 month ago

You know what sounds good? Cumin coconut bread. I may have to go get some coconut flour and try a batch this week…

Jane
Jane
5 years 1 month ago

I love lots of cumin in (legume-free) chili.

Kaiser Wilhelm
Kaiser Wilhelm
5 years 1 month ago

Cumin is the spice heavily used in middle eastern countries.
It’s used a LOT in dishes in the country of Turkey. My sister lived in Sri Lanka for awhile, it’s used heavily there, too.

I’m not a fan of cumin even though I’m 50% balkan…it’s a nasty tasting spice, yuck.

Tara
5 years 1 month ago

Awesome! I just posted a recipe yesterday with cumin.

Sean
5 years 1 month ago

Cumin is a big spice here in the Czech Republic, bread, soups. While I could take it or leave it, it’s a pretty polarizing spice, I know a lot of people who despice (sorry) it.

mtts
mtts
5 years 1 month ago

Actually the stuff that’s in almost everything in the Czech republic is caraway, not cumin. There’s an amusing passage in Albert Camus’ diaries complaining about the practice and if my own experience is anything to go by, things had not improved one bit by the early 1990s.

The entire country seemed to smell of it, and, unlike what Mark would have you believe, it’s nothing like the sharp smell of cumin at all.

Henriette
5 years 1 month ago

Yes
beware – the same goes for the scandinavian cuisine bread, cheese and cabbage -it is NOT cummin but caraway we use,
BUT the problem is that it is called KOMMEN -so it is easy to mistake 😉 when translated

annie
annie
5 years 1 month ago

Best. Spice. Ever.

Travass
Travass
5 years 1 month ago

rub cumin and chili powder on flank steak and grill. yummy. carne asada-ish.

Mark
5 years 1 month ago

I have never even heard of this spice until now. Sounds like I have been missing out.

I better go out to store now to get some 🙂

Abby C.
Abby C.
5 years 1 month ago

Cumin is amazingly a key ingredient in alot of really, really different ethnic cuisines. Some of you have mentioned Czech, Turkish, Indian, Mexican….cumin is found in all of them. We keep it both ground and whole (in seed form) in our kitchen.

evadnefrances
evadnefrances
5 years 1 month ago

Cumin roasted cauliflower–you’ll never steam or rice or mash it again! Toss flowerettes with some olive oil, generous amount of cumin, some smoked paprika, and salt & pepper if you like. Roast in a shallow pan 30-45 minutes in a pretty hot oven (400-ish). Mmmmmm, even my “cauliflower-hating” husband has seconds on this!

Jemima
Jemima
5 years 1 month ago

My current favourite steak/roast cauliflower/chicken/brussel sprout spice mix is rosemary, smoked paprika, cumin seeds and sea salt.
It’s gorgeous in just about everything I’ve tried it on.

Nannsi
Nannsi
5 years 1 month ago

Oooo..cumin roasted beets! Much the same recipe. Seemed way weird to me, but I had beets in the fridge and decided to try it. Oh boy was it good!

Susan Alexander
5 years 1 month ago

Cumin is great for mixing up with olive oil and drizzling over whatever plain protein you have. It’s a no-effot way to add some great flavor. Works especially well with ground turkey.

Harry
5 years 1 month ago

Having grown up in Southern California, I have had Tex-Mex all my life. (Or technically “Cal-Mex” I guess.) I love cumin. If it helps with my diabetes, so much the better.

Mexican food snobs would say that cumin is not used much in “real” Mexican cooking. Actually, it was brought to what is now the U.S. in 1731 by settlers from the Canary Islands. So I guess it is one of the earliest American foods, aside from American Indian ones. See more (than you want to know) in my blog under Tex-Mex.

bbuddha
bbuddha
5 years 1 month ago

tex-mex in Colorado is how I was introduced to cumin. I love it. I make a meatloaf with that and chili powder. Yum 🙂

Shortib
Shortib
5 years 1 month ago
Quinoa Enchiladas w/ cumin. Cook Quinoa in enchilada sauce (Tomato paste added to water with salt cumin and chili powder to taste, hot sauce optional). Make extra enchilada sauce, or use store bought (red or green. Put extra enchilada sauce in bottom of baking pan (extra cumin is good). Take round corn or flour tortillas and put cooked quinoa and a little shredded cheese inside. Roll tortilla up and place in dish on enchilada sauce with the open side down, do this until the baking pan is full with each enchilada touching each other. Pour more extra enchilada sauce to… Read more »
Ashley H
Ashley H
5 years 1 month ago

I love to use cumin to make sauces and dips. My favorite is a yogurt-based dip to replace sour cream in tacos.

-yogurt
-lime juice
-cumin
-honey
-chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
-salt and pepper

blend together in a food processor and drizzle over tacos/taco salad. Especially great with fish tacos.

the4and5
the4and5
5 years 1 month ago

I take food processed vegetables (spinach, kale, carrots, etc), meat of choice (usually chicken, beef, or tuna) and mix them together in a bowl. Next I add fresh salsa and cumin to season, and then heat it all up. A really fast meal!

deaksie
deaksie
5 years 1 month ago

Try putting cauliflower florets on a dry baking tray, sprinkling with cumin and roasting. You can add a few drops of water but if I’ve just washed my cauliflower I tend not to bother as there is enough residual moisture. They take around 20 Mins and you end up with an intense taste of cauliflower which isn’t diluted by cooking in water. It also locks in all the nutrients which might otherwise be lost in the cooking liquor. Sounds weird, tastes yummy

dave
dave
5 years 1 month ago

I used to use it in potato salad(when I still ate it)
Now use it in celeriac,beetroot,carrot or any potato salad subs,but why do people always overdose it in chili!

Joanne - The Real Food Mama
5 years 1 month ago

Alright!! Bring on the chili! I love putting cumin on my eggs with some cheese and sour cream or fresh salsa!!

Sandy
Sandy
5 years 1 month ago

Cumin is my favorite spice, hands down. I love the muskiness of it. I use it in meatloaf, along with sumac and cinnamon and just a hint of garlic. Instead of tomato paste I use pureed roast red peppers, leaving about half in larger chunks. Saute onions, add egg and usually a mix of ground beef and lamb. I made goat burgers last night with the same spice mixture.

Merridy
Merridy
4 years 7 months ago

I always thought Sumac was poisonous! Guess I’ll need to look that up.

Dasbutch
Dasbutch
5 years 1 month ago

Cumin cumin everywhere…yummy. I like the instead of pepper idea on eggs, it’s on the breakfast menu for tomorrow. Thanks!

Boštjan Cimer
Boštjan Cimer
5 years 1 month ago

Here where I live – let`s call this place central europe/mediterranean/balkans – we use cumin for – TEA.

It tastes great, just put in in an almost boiling water and cover for 15 minutes. Together with ANISE it is well known tea for its great taste and as a traditional remedy (especially digestion troubles).

Nick
Nick
5 years 1 month ago

I make pan-seared (in butter) butterflied chicken breasts dry-rubbed with cumin, salt and black pepper, and they’re -awesome-. Amazing how such a simple addition of seasoning can totally change the character of a dish!

spincycle
spincycle
5 years 1 month ago

Cumin and turmeric in soups and stews is really, really good, it adds a whole new layer of flavoring.

dave
dave
5 years 1 month ago

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100518105801.htm
This is interesting,not sure if you’ve covered it already.

Donna
Donna
5 years 1 month ago

Cumin is a constant in portuguese and brazilian cuisine…My grandmother made a fabulous spice rub for pork chops and center cuts with cumin, white pepper and garlic…and brined it with red wine vinegar…While “un-primal”…her portuguese beans..feijoada?.. also were wonderfully fragrant with lots of cumin….

David Wood
5 years 1 month ago

Cumin is the key ingredient in one of our very favourite recipes; Pulled Pork (a.k.a Shredded Pork).

We have our own recipe which is basically a mixture of the Pulled Pork recipe from the Primal Blueprint Cookbook with a heavy influence from this one:

http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2008/08/spicy-shredded-pork/

Alan
Alan
5 years 1 month ago

Cumin is the key spice in my families traditional Turkish kofte recipe. Ground lamb, an egg, fresh coriander, finely grated onion and fresh garlic mixed with sea salt, pepper corns and cumin seeds ground with a mortar and pestle.
I’ve never tried frying the seeds before but will give that a try the next time I make a batch. Thanks for the tip!

Hadass
Hadass
5 years 1 month ago

I can’t believe nobody has mentioned using cumin in guacamole! Salt, garlic, cumin, fresh-squeezed lemon juice and your avocado is divine!

Dirk
Dirk
5 years 1 month ago

Cumin KUHM-in, not KYOO-min or KOO-min. Cumin (which formerly was also spelled cummin) should rhyme with summon,

Kirsty
Kirsty
5 years 1 month ago

i put Cumin on everything! …almost. Love cumin seeds sprinkled on my salad Yum

mtts
mtts
5 years 1 month ago

In the Netherlands it’s used to flavor cheese. That is to say you can buy cheese with cumin seeds in it. If that is unavailable to you, possibly you can replicate the effect by sprinkling cumin seedson a piece of aged “Gouda”

Henriette
5 years 1 month ago

No it is NOT cumin but caraway !

Caraway =Carum carvi)
cumin =Cuminum cyminum)
taste totally diffrent 😉

Stephni
Stephni
5 years 1 month ago

No definitely cumin in the cheese it is called komijnekaas. We find it quite easily in South Africa and my husband is half Dutch so it is one of the things he loves to get – along with things like zoutedrop (salty licorice). Karwij is caraway in Dutch.

http://www.eisengakaas.nl/nl/assortiment/komijnekaas

Timothy
5 years 1 month ago

Fascinating! If cumin improves sensitivity to opium, perhaps it raises sensitivity to the body’s own opioids, which among other things could be a useful tool in combatting binge-eating behavior. I wonder if I start using cumin, will I be less tempted to eat the entire jar of macadamias in one sitting? An n=1 experiment awaits…

Thanks Mark for another tool in the spice rack!

Amit
Amit
5 years 1 month ago

You can pour hot water on 2 spoon cumin seeds and make tea. it has high iron content and other minerals. its very useful in IBD/IBS. In kerala, where Ayurveda originated, they drink cumin water with all meals and its served in all restaurants. roasted and crushed cumin seeds have nice intense flavor..use 2 make buttermilk which is damn gud for digestion and IBD/IBS.

George Morris
George Morris
5 years 1 month ago
Personally, I’ve noticed that when consuming a lot of spices their scent tends to permeate the skin for the next day or so. I remember Mark commenting on eating certain types of spices to potentially ward off mosquitoes so I assume it’s a similar process. To that point I would warn anyone with a hot date coming up, not to over-do-it on the cumin the night before because that “fine body odor” smell well definitely be magnified the day after a cumin-laden meal. Instead, sweet-smelling spices like cardamom, fennel (be careful of the phyto-estrogens), or even large amounts of black… Read more »
Abby
Abby
5 years 1 month ago

Make sure you don’t buy powdered cumin in the store. Buy the seeds, roast them, then squish them in a mortar and pestle. My niece taught me this and the taste is so dramatically different. I didn’t care for cumin until she taught me this way and now I have it almost every day!

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Erin
5 years 1 month ago

Having grown up in Texas, I use cumin in almost everything! One of my favorite easy sides is sauteed zucchini, red pepper, and onion sprinkled with cumin and chili powder in the last moments of cooking.

I can’t imagine my kitchen without cumin!

Dan
Dan
5 years 1 month ago

Cumin is an excellent addition to guacamole, hummus, or tabouli (among other things).

gilliebean
5 years 1 month ago

So yeah, I just added cumin to the meal I’m making for dinner. Glad I had it in the cupboard!

P.S. Cumin is *great* in guacamole.

Greg
Greg
5 years 1 month ago
30-second (/overnight) brisket, for the lazy meat lover who wants to cook once and eat well all week. 1. Get a few pounds of grass-fed brisket with a nice fat cap (ask your farmer for a “point” which has more fat. If your grass-fed beef is too lean, ask your farmer to slaughter older animals — 3-4 years is good). 2. Rub with salt to taste. 3. Sprinkle liberally with whole cumin seeds. 4. Roast uncovered, fat side up at 225F or so overnight (8+ hours). Any internal temp over 185-190 should soften a brisket sufficiently. Your container should have… Read more »
PrimalGrandma
PrimalGrandma
5 years 1 month ago
When DH and I got married (almost 30 years ago) he didn’t care for (read: hated) ground cumin – he said it smelled like dirty feet! Dirty feet aside, personally I love the stuff and have used it for years in the kitchen – couldn’t live without it. So when I used it for cooking, I made sure to use it with other “normal, everyday” spices/herbs so DH didn’t have a clue it was in the meal. (He couldn’t stand any type of curry either.) I think it’s one of those things that you either love or hate. Fast forward… Read more »
rik
rik
5 years 1 month ago

I make a tea of cumin,chamomile, and coriander. quite refreshing.

Sam
Sam
5 years 1 month ago

Mix some chickpeas with cumin, salt, pepper, and a bit of olive oil and roast for 40 minutes at 450F for an incredibly delicous result! Roasted chickpeas are a great snack or addition to any salad. They also add a great crunch to a fruit/yogurt parfait.

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